Erased cannabis convictions stonewalling cannabis license applicants

The first step for a business to get in the Minnesota marijuana game is underway this week.

But a move designed to help cannabis convicts may be backfiring for some of them.

The state is verifying social equity applicants for three weeks, but a lot of people are struggling to prove they qualify as social equity applicants because their marijuana convictions have been wiped clean.

A little weed in the car got Nathan Philippi busted in 2006.

He got a ticket and a mark on his record.

"I distinctly remember paying a fine for it," said the owner of St. Cloud's Mr. Nice Guy.

18 years later, that arrest could come in handy as he looks to expand his smoke and hemp shop into cannabis retail.

Social equity applicants get first crack at the Minnesota marijuana license lotteries and convictions for marijuana-related crimes open that door.

But when Philippi checked his court records, the conviction was invisible.

"It's kind of like getting hit twice from the government: once for the offense in the first place and now again, when they actually are doing something to remedy this," Philippi said.

Last year’s legalization bill expunged and sealed the records of about 57,000 low-level marijuana convictions.

Others are just old enough that counties destroyed the records, wiping the slate clean for people who need to show some dirt in their past.

"I'm basically in an infinite loop with the government right now, and I don't know what the next steps are," said Philippi.

The Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) had 1,542 people apply for verification of their social equity status this week with 282 licenses up for grabs.

Officials admit ghost convictions are an issue for several people, but cannabis consultants say it’s going smoothly for most of their clients.

"I will say that the verification process seems to go fairly quickly," said Leili Fatehi of Blunt Strategies.

OCM has guidance posted for these situations on page 7 of this guide.

Fatehi says she’s telling her clients in this position to just submit everything they can.

In some cases, counties will have a record that there used to be a record, so even submitting that is worth a try.